“Alas for those who go down to Egypt for help and who rely on horses, who trust in chariots because they are many and in horsemen because they are very strong, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel or consult the Lord!” (Isaiah 31:1)
We seem to have a natural tendency when difficulties arise and our figurative world is thrown out of control to find something concrete to rely on. Even if we know that our hope could be placed in the wrong place, we still would rather place our hope in something that we can touch and feel than in some unseen reality. Israel is experiencing this phenomenon in Isaiah 31 when confronted with the approaching Assyrian army. Assyria is the new power on the world stage, and they have been making their way across the surrounding nations, destroying and taking over everything in their path. They are now facing Israel, and Israel is scared. Israel has known since the days of the Exodus that God would protect them if they would remain faithful, but an unseen God is sometimes difficult to believe in when faced with an intimidating army. So Israel reaches out for something secure, Egypt. The same nation that had once enslaved them has now become the savior; at least that’s the hope. Israel promises to be a vassal for Egypt if Egypt will just come protect them from the impending disaster. Why would anyone ever voluntarily sign up for servitude, especially when Yahweh God could rescue them?
Isaiah sees the fault and reminds them of their poor choice.
“The Egyptians are human, and not God; their horses are flesh, and not spirit. When the Lord stretches out his hand, the helper will stumble, and the one helped will fall, and they will all perish together.” (Isaiah 31:3)
Even though the Egyptians seem like a safe bet because their army is formidable, ultimately they will fail. The Egyptians are just humans. Sure, they are mighty in war, but they are humans. They use horses. They fight with human tools. But God is spirit. God can do things no human can do. When God’s hand is stretched out everyone will stumble and fall together. No one can stand against God. Why would we trust in something else? Why would we place our hope in something that can never sustain?
Yet we do. It’s part of our human tendency to find something safe and secure to rely on, even when we know better. Thus, when sickness comes we place our hope in doctors and nurses. When financial difficulties arise, we seek more money or a better budget. When are marriage is struggling we either do nothing or possibly hope that a minister can solve our problems. When we struggle with addiction, we find a twelve-step group. It’s not that any of these responses are wrong in themselves. Truth is, they should probably all be tried, and even more. But perhaps our first response should be dealing with the spiritual issues involved. Perhaps we should spend more time in prayer. Perhaps we should recommit ourselves to God. If our marriage is struggling we should ask, how can I be a more godly spouse? If we are facing financial difficulties we should ask, how can we be better steward?. If facing addiction, we should put our hope in the God who can give meaning to life, and not the addiction we are using to mask the pain. Too often we fight our spiritual battles with earthly answers. But the battle belongs to the Lord. Our first response should be to seek the Lord, even when we search for flesh and bone answers to our troubles.
“Turn back to him whom you have deeply betrayed, O people of Israel. For on that day all of you shall throw away your idols of silver and idols of gold, which your hands have sinfully made for you. Then the Assyrian shall fall by a sword, not of mortals; and a sword, not of humans, shall devour him.” (Isaiah 31:6-8)
When we turn back to God, when we rely on God for strength, when we recognize the spiritual battle around us, that is when we will see the deliverance of the Lord. Don’t place your security in what you can touch and feel, rely on God, and see the deliverance of Israel.